Programme of Public Lectures at the Wilberforce Institute, Autumn 2022

This year we have moved our lectures to a Wednesday afternoon to avoid clashes with the University teaching schedule. We hope you will be able to join us in our lovely building at 27 High Street, Hull, to hear what our speakers have to say. However, if you are unable to make it to the Institute, specific links for those who would like to stream online will be made available as each talk approaches.  These can be found by clicking on the ‘Events’ tab of our blog.

For more details of how to sign up to stream lectures, or directions to the Institute, please contact Beki Bloomfield at R.Bloomfield@hull.ac.uk

The full programme of lectures for Autumn and Spring 2022-23 is available on the ‘Event Programme’ tab, and I will be providing more information about the Spring lectures in our annual programme early next year.

In this blog I want to draw your attention to the three public lectures – on very different topics – that we have on offer this autumn.  

We begin, as usual, with our Alderman Sydney Smith Annual Lecture, on Wednesday October 12 at 5.30pm.

For those of you who don’t know, the Lecture was created in the early 1970s by Sydney Smith, a well-known local councillor who devoted a good part of his adult life to the city of Hull. Having been first elected to Hull City Council in 1923, he served almost continuously on the Council until 1942, taking on the role of Lord Mayor in 1940. When he retired from the Council some two decades later, he was made an Honorary Alderman for life. His initial financial bequest was intended to support a four-year lecture series only, but this was converted into a perpetual endowment through a trust fund. If you are interested in knowing more about Sydney and his life you can read Mike Turner’s two-part blog, here and here.

The Alderman Sydney Smith Annual Lecture now kicks off our series of annual lectures, and is the highlight of our annual lecture programme.  We are lucky enough to have been able to attract some very prestigious speakers over the years, and this year is no different. Professor Matthew Smith is currently Director of the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-Ownership at University College London, where he is also Professor of History. He worked for several years before that at the University of the West Indies.

His research is pan-Caribbean in scope with a special interest in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century histories of Haiti and Jamaica. His publications, which are numerous and wide-ranging, include Red and Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict and Political Change, 1934-1957 (2009) and Liberty, Fraternity, Exile: Haiti and Jamaica After Emancipation (2014) Among his current research projects is a study of the representations and legacies of the Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica in 1865, and a social history of Jamaican popular music since the 1950s. 

Professor Smith was also involved in the ESRC/AHRC-funded project, Caribbean Foodscapes, which led to him becoming the Chair of the Advisory Group for an AHRC-funded project using historical approaches to research food systems to meet contemporary challenges.

In this talk, Professor Smith turns his attention and ours to the pressing matter of teaching slavery, as he discusses ‘Righting History: Why Teaching Slavery Matters’. His presentation will address some of the approaches, comments, and conflicting narratives of the history of slavery and abolition that have emerged in public spaces in recent years. This will be framed by a discussion on the history of the teaching of Caribbean slavery since the foundational work of Eric Williams in 1944 and the establishment of the University of the West Indies History department in the 1950s. It will also contrast educational imperatives on teaching slavery in the Caribbean and the UK generally, and the current demands of a younger generation for new approaches to how we teach and talk about slavery in the twenty-first century. 

For those of you who would like to stream, please register here.

On Wednesday November 9 at 4.30pm we welcome Dr Jim Powell, Honorary Research Associate in the Department of History at the University of Liverpool, who has been ploughing a very different slavery furrow – he has recently published a study of Britain’s raw cotton trade in the nineteenth century.

Taking his title and material from that book, Losing the Thread – Cotton, Liverpool and the American Civil War, Dr Powell will talk about the effect of the American Civil War on Britain’s raw cotton trade and on the Liverpool cotton market. Before the civil war, America supplied 80 per cent of Britain’s cotton. In August 1861, this fell to almost zero, where it remained for four years. Despite increased supplies from elsewhere, Britain’s largest industry received only 36 per cent of the raw material it needed from 1862 to 1864.

Losing the Thread feels very timely, given the current supply constraints that the war between Russia and Ukraine has created. Dr Powell’s book establishes the facts of Britain’s raw cotton supply during the war: how much there was of it, in absolute terms and in relation to the demand, where it came from and why, how much it cost, and what impact the reduced supply had on Britain’s cotton manufacture. It includes an enquiry into the causes of the Lancashire cotton famine, which contradicts the historical consensus on the subject. Examining the impact of the civil war on Liverpool and its cotton market, the book disputes the historic portrayal of Liverpool as a solidly pro-Confederate town. It also demonstrates how reckless speculation infested and distorted the raw cotton market, and lays bare the shadowy world of the Liverpool cotton brokers, who profited hugely from the war while the rest of Lancashire starved.

For those of you who would like to stream, please register here.

For our final talk of 2022, at 4.30pm on Wednesday December 7, we shift gear again, welcoming Dr Lucy Mayblin, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Sheffield.

Dr Mayblin in a Political Sociologist. Her researchcentres on the politics of asylum, particularly in Britain, and has included explorations of the connections between Britain’s colonial past and asylum policy today. In 2020 Lucy won one of the Philip Leverhulme Prizes for Sociology and from September 2021 has been working on an archival project on the 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees, and a contemporary exploration of the international spread of ‘crimes of solidarity’ (where citizens are punished for helping irregular migrants).

Dr Mayblin is the author of Asylum After Empire: Postcolonial Legacies in the Politics of Asylum Seeking (2017) which won the British Sociological Association’s Philip Abrams Memorial Prize in 2018, and Impoverishment and Asylum: Social Policy as Slow Violence (2019). She is on the advisory board of the Connected Sociologies Curriculum Project.

The title of her talk is ‘Criminal assistance: Understanding Crimes of Solidarity’. Over the past 20-30 years a shift has taken place in the way European, and Western states more broadly, understand asylum seeking. Asylum migration has ceased to be understood as primarily a humanitarian phenomenon, and it has come to be thought of a primarily a phenomenon of economic migration. Steps have accordingly been taken to prevent would-be asylum seekers from arriving in their territories, and to limit their rights if they do manage to arrive. This has inevitably led to the illegalisation of movement, particularly the movement of people who are seeking sanctuary. But the inhospitable actions of states have been countered by moves by a diverse range of citizens and other residents to help ‘irregular’ migrants. For example, by saving them from drowning in the sea, perishing in mountains or deserts, offering them shelter, food, showers, lifts or other acts of support such as documenting border violence. In response, states are increasingly seeking to criminalise these helpers, particularly by casting them as smugglers. This talk will discuss the emergence of what have been dubbed ‘crimes of solidarity’, how we can understand this phenomenon, and where the research gaps are in scholarly work on this topic.

For those of you who would like to stream, please register here.

I hope I have whetted your appetite for intellectual stimulation, but if there is anything else you would like to know please get in touch with me at Judith.Spicksley@hull.ac.uk or Beki at the email address above. We look forward to welcoming you in person or online.  

The Alderman Sydney Smith Annual Lecture – a brief history (Part II)

Part II: the end of the first phase of the Annual Lecture and its later re-inauguration

Emeritus Professor Michael E. Turner,

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull.

M.E.Turner@emeritus.hull.ac.uk

Tonight Professor Douglas Hamilton of Sheffield Hallam University will give our Alderman Sydney Smith Annual Lecture. If you haven’t yet signed up you can do so here where you will also find details of the lecture. Having given us the first part of his brief history of the lecture last week, Emeritus Professor Michael Turner concludes this week with a discussion of the end of its first phase, and its later re-inauguration.

Sydney Smith died in 1984 at the age of 99, but the annual lecture he founded in 1972 continued for another four years before coming at that point to an abrupt end. In October 1988 the Department of Economic and Social History was looking forward to welcoming Arthur Marwick, the flamboyant professor from the Open University, to deliver a talk, but he never came.

The 1980s saw quite considerable debate and sometimes unrest in the University sector. Many universities embarked on radical restructuring programmes in order to embrace some of the new technologies and subject areas that society would demand in the future. More traditional areas of learning came under attack as intellectual knowledge was no longer valued for its own sake. Universities embraced different ways to confront the more targeted funding provided by the conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher. More specialisation took place, for example, and the activities of so-called fringe subjects, especially languages, were discontinued. Members of staff moved to other universities where central funding for their activities was increased. The University of Hull lost Classics, Scandinavian Studies, Dutch Studies, and Russian, and in the sciences the Physics Department was lost. Some of these activities did return, but with much reduced activity. It was the attack on Philosophy which led to the redundancy of a specific lecturer, but it also served to ignite the fuse of revolt. Redundancy was not a word easily applied to the University sector and Hull became the first or at least the most prominent University to declare a redundancy. In consequence the AUT, the national Association of University Teachers, rallied to Hull’s cause and a boycott of all activity at Hull was declared. The impact was considerable. The University found it very difficult to recruit external examiners not only for undergraduate degrees but also to examine research theses. Colleagues were no longer invited to speak at external events, and external speakers cancelled their visits to Hull. Most significantly for our story here, Arthur Marwick cancelled his invitation to give the Annual Sydney Smith Lecture.

For whatever reason, the lecture was not reinstated once order had been restored, though the income from its investments grew nicely during the years of double-digit interest rates. In 2001 the Department of Economic and Social History was amalgamated with History. From 2004, however, the Wilberforce Institute began to take shape, under the three ‘WISE’ men who founded it, David Richardson, Michael (Mike) Turner and Gary Craig; it opened its doors late in 2006.  Mike and David had both worked in the old Department of Economic and Social History, and so in 2009 they negotiated with the University to release the Alderman Sydney Smith endowment specifically to the Wilberforce Institute in order to re-inaugurate the lecture. It was a perfect match, a lecture in social and labour history but specifically devoted to slavery and all its exploitative labour connotations. To make this rebirth something to be remembered, the distinguished American historian, Professor Seymour Drescher, was invited from Pittsburgh in 2010. His credentials included books on slavery, antislavery, abolition and most controversially his Econocide: British Slavery in the Era of Abolition (1977).

Later speakers included Professors Marcus Wood in 2011, Philip D. Morgan in 2012, Catherine Hall in 2013 and Verene A. Shepherd in 2014. In 2018, we welcomed Professor Jean Allain, a scholar of international law who helped draft the Bellagio Harvard Guidelines on the Legal Parameters of Slavery. Two of our former Directors have also given lectures – Professors David Richardson in 2016, and John Oldfield in 2020.

Over the years, the lecture has moved between the University Campus and the Wilberforce Institute. Last year Covid-19 forced John Oldfield to deliver his lecture using a virtual format, but this year we are planning once again to hold the Alderman Sydney Smith Annual Lecture in the Institute, with live-streaming of Professor Hamilton’s talk for those who cannot make it. We would be delighted to welcome you in person or inline.

Reproduced by kind permission of Hull History Centre

https://hullhistorycentre.org.uk/home.aspx

The Alderman Sydney Smith Annual Lecture – a brief history

Part I: Sydney Smith and the establishment of the Annual Lecture

Emeritus Professor Michael E. Turner,

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull.

M.E.Turner@emeritus.hull.ac.uk

In advance of our Alderman Sydney Smith Annual Lecture next week, Emeritus Professor Michael Turner provides a brief history of the lecture’s creation and development. The first part is given below, and the second part will appear next Thursday on the day of the lecture. You can sign up to the lecture here.

The history of the Alderman Sydney Smith Annual Lecture goes back to the 1970s, and the Department of Economic and Social History, which was later absorbed into the Department of History. To understand the lecture’s creation, however, we have to begin with the man himself.

Sydney Smith came from a family of tailors who moved from Birmingham to Ipswich and then to London, where he was born in 1885. After spending his earliest years in the capital, Sydney moved to Goole at the age of nine when his father fell ill. His father’s brother lived there and the family thought it would be wise to be nearer to him. Sydney’s cousin was a Goole newsagent and Sydney became one of his newspaper sellers, later buying into the newsagent’s business himself.

By the age of 18 Sydney had moved to Hull and was living on the Boulevard. Thereafter he never strayed far from the Hessle Road. Born into a Methodist family, Sydney became a lay preacher in adulthood, but there were also early family connections with politics – his maternal grandfather, Charles Hedges, had been political agent to conservative politician and Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Sydney took a different political direction, became a socialist and joined the ILP (Independent Labour Party). He eventually attended Ruskin College in Oxford, a popular college for bright young socialists before attending St Catherine’s College, also Oxford, where he read modern history. He expanded his newsagent business into books, especially those of the Fabian Society, and active politics beckoned. He was first elected to Hull City Council in 1923. Sydney remained almost continually on the Council until 1942, and served as Lord Mayor in 1940. Being unmarried, he took as his lady mayoress his niece, Miss Daisy Sunderland, who was only 23 at the time.

In the 1945 General Election Sydney was elected to Westminster as part of the Labour landslide. Representing the South-West Hull seat, he deposed the sitting MP Richard Law, who later became Lord Coleraine. His maiden speech was on the subject of the National Insurance Bill, where he spoke against a proposal to introduce a means test for unemployment benefits – it was contrary to the Beveridge line that paying into a fund conferred rights of entitlement if hard times and unemployment followed later. Sydney’s other main interventions at Westminster were on local issues, specifically the urban reconstruction of Hull which had been the most ‘densely’ bombed city during the Second World War. He also spoke on Hull’s fishing industry. However, Sydney stood down from Parliament after only 5 years in 1950 at the age of 65 and returned to municipal politics. Twenty years later, when he retired from the Council, he was made an Honorary Alderman for life. External honours followed in the final years of his life: a school was named after him in Hull; he became an Honorary Freeman of the City; and the University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Law and conferred on him membership of the University Court for life.

The Alderman Sydney Smith Lecture was created when the new Department of Economic and Social History was formed in 1970-71.  Following negotiations conducted by two of the Department staff, John Saville and Mike Brown, Sydney made a financial bequest to inaugurate a four-year lecture series in labour and social history. Saville was the first Professor of Economic and Social History at Hull, and Mike Brown was an historian of the labour movement and very much a friend of Sydney. Reputedly Mike’s family dog Syd, was named after him. The endowment became perpetual through a trust fund.

The very first lecture was given by Professor Asa Briggs on 15 May 1972, then Vice-Chancellor at Sussex and himself a noted historian of the Labour Movement. Brigg’s lecture was on Social History and Human Experience. Sydney was therefore in his mid-80s when the lecture series began. He attended the first lecture and wrote Briggs a warm letter of appreciation, although he disclosed that he ‘scarcely heard a word of what was said. I knew he was carrying the audience with him by the ripples of laughter which shook those sitting about me’. Sydney was already blind and nearly deaf by this point, and so in subsequent years details of the lecture were narrated to him by Mike Brown (and tape recordings of the lectures were made).

Following Briggs appearance, the annual lecture became a who’s who of the intellectual left with such noted and often controversial figures as Edward Thompson in 1974. Three more heavyweight intellectual Marxists followed in the period 1978-80 in the shape of Rodney Hilton, Eric Hobsbawm, and Christopher Hill. The lecture also attracted the Welsh fireball Gwyn Williams in 1983, not to mention a relatively young new member of the intellectual left, Gareth Steadman Jones, in 1986. In those early years there was only one female lecturer, Charlotte Erickson, who spoke on Women Emigrants from Britain to the USA in the early nineteenth century. However, the lecture was proving to be a great success, attracting academics of reputation and distinction to Hull, and confirming the Department of Economic and Social History as an important centre for the study of Labour History. As Part II will show, it is somewhat ironic then that it was labour relations that would bring the first phase of the Alderman Sydney Smith Annual Lecture to an end.

Reproduced by kind permission of Hull History Centre

https://hullhistorycentre.org.uk/home.aspx